What Do I Choose As A Foundation?




A few days ago I concluded a post with the following observation:


“I think one thing is certain. The choices I make today will prepare me for the choices ahead. The truth that I bury in my heart will form the foundation of what I believe. That foundation will help me face the choice between what is right and what is easy.”


It begs the question of what I will choose to bury in my heart to form the foundation of what I believe that then guides my choices. I am (in this case) looking at what I intentionally choose to bury in my heart.


All of us have things that get buried in our heart over time. The list can be endless, but let me try naming a few of them. I easily bury in my heart things that are said about me, over me, and to me from before I can even speak. Since my brain is not fully developed, they (along with my experiences) get randomly tucked away without a determination of whether they are truth, lies, or half-truths. Nonetheless they begin to lay down a foundation of what I believe about myself. Those closest to me often do not pause to think of how powerful and long lasting their words can be.


Those beginning perceptions form beliefs that also begin to form how I view everything and everyone around me. I take them as truth even though they may not be. They become “my” truth and I start to make choices (or not make choices) based on them without much consideration as to whether or not they are actually true. As a result, they subtly, but powerfully influence our preferences, biases, thoughts, dreams, hopes, and more.


When I get introduced to formal education in any form, I start to have a grid or base from img_2218which to test out “my” truth to determine if objective facts (truth?) match up to “my” subjective truth. Information from teachers (formal and informal) and a variety of books, magazines, news reports, peers, and social media get thrown into the smorgasbord I take in. What I do not realize at the outset is these added things shaping my foundational beliefs may not be true either even though I often might have strong, passionate feelings about them.


If I am going to consider what I intentionally bury in my heart as a foundation for my choices, I need to be much more deliberate. It will require me to research and look more carefully at the sources and the people behind the sources and what “their” truth has been to determine if it is “the” truth. With all the current means of research that technology has blessed me with, it actually can make it harder. Too much comes at me from all sources, all persuasions, all over the world and often it is extraordinarily difficult to discover whether I have been taking in misinformation disseminated deliberately or through ignorance. That definitely does not help me in determining whether I will make the easy choice or the right choice in most cases.


That is especially true because the information often comes at me without a moral framework more common a hundred years ago.


Determining truth can be difficult. Pilate made that clear as he examined Jesus as written in John 18:38 when he said, “What is truth?” He was clearly having a hard time deciding between what was easy and what was right.


Perhaps the most relevant thing I need to bury in my heart is found in Psalm 119:11:


“I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” ESV


The key to burying His Word in my heart is influenced by many things. Those early pieces of “my” truth will be one of the influences. The knowledge, skill, and truthfulness of the teachers, preachers, and books I take in will have a great impact as well. I think that makes it essential that I discipline myself to researching out who God is by looking at His own words spoken through the men and women He chose that appear in the Bible. Only then can I do what a former pastor routinely admonished his congregation to do at the end of his Sunday sermons: “Don’t take my word for it. Go home and read the Word yourself and check on what I say to be certain it is true.”


As a believer I can be too quick to casually approach God’s Word and pick what I like or prefer to hear and see, a bit like sorting through fruits and vegetables in the produce aisle. I can attest that God can speak through that many times, but it reveals a truth I might overlook that Bible study leader and writer, Bron Short, put succinctly: “People think they themselves are located at the center of interest in the text; they need to find God there instead.”


The incredible news is that God really does want us to know who He really is and what He is really about so we bury “His” truth in our hearts as a foundation for our choices. That comes only when I don’t simply randomly pick out something to read that may be quite good, but doesn’t given me a complete picture of Him. If that is all I do, then when life throws me a curve ball (Don’t I wish that were not so common!!), I will be more likely to make the easy choice versus the right choice.


Kathleen Buswell Nielson points out pivotal truths about the Word in her exceptional little book entitled Bible Study: Following the Ways of the Word:


  • The Bible is God speaking.
  • The Bible is powerful.
  • The Bible is understandable.
  • The Bible is a literary work.
  • The Bible is one story.


We are all blessed with many wonderful Bible studies to choose from. Some are on a book of the Bible, some are topical, and some are a combination of a number of things. They are a great source of encouragement and teaching, but I would encourage you to look a bit more at the incredible feast the Word offers when we come to know it as one story and see the context of the passages we sometimes seize upon without knowing fully their meaning.


“…how amazing…to be privileged to hear from the Lord our Maker. How far away from sterile intellectual analysis is the process of deeply studying God’s Word. As we lean together over a biblical text to study it, we are in effect leaning in closer to the breath of God.” Kathleen Buswell Nielson






Choosing Can Be Difficult

Bow River, Alberta, Canada
Bow River, Alberta, Canada


I cannot recall when I first came to grips with how much I wanted the option to choose something for myself. I am confident it began in early childhood. It usually does for all of us. It can be those pesky things about what we play with and whom we play with or what we want to wear or don’t want to wear, and so on. Early on in our lives that desire to be unfettered by the choices of others pokes its head up above the surface.


What I didn’t recognize for so much longer was the responsibility that was mine when I was allowed to choose. I couldn’t blame anyone else when I was the one choosing.


After that began to dawn on me, I think that most days I went along making choices and not thinking a great deal about them. So many daily choices can seem inconsequential at the time and many of them truly are, but not all. Sometimes the consequence of the choice does not show up for a very long time so it can be easy to forget my part in it.


I can choose to eat only the things I like and only go to bed or work when I feel like it. The first day I make such a choice is easy. It is even easier to do so a second day because I usually experience no consequences for it at the time. I won’t notice the effect on my health for perhaps a long time. I won’t notice that I actually reduce how many options I increasingly have to choose from if those patterns aren’t healthy.


Small choices develop patterns of choices over time that lead to results I never bargained for.


I can easily forget that choice was first of all a gift from my Creator at the very beginning. It was and is a powerful gift! He wants me to choose to love Him and devote my life to Him. He could have made it a mandate for His creation, but He didn’t. And choices are often not easy.


J.K. Rowling wrote:

“Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.”


An easy choice seems to cost me nothing. An easy choice fits in because it is in agreement with everyone else’s choice. An easy choice looks good on the outside.


I wonder if God gives us so many opportunities to practice choosing because He knows that at some point the things we must choose between will not be at all easy. Some of those things will come from small things we thought had no meaning or consequence. Some of them will come as a bolt out of the night and expose our cowardice when we try to avoid the choice that has come to us.


Each choice will finally highlight what we believe. It will also expose whom we believe and whether or not we are willing to risk being identified with Him, risk following Him, and risk trusting Him when it isn’t easy. Each choice will expose areas of unbelief as well.


In every great story, every great movie, the characters in the story learns of a choice that is set before them. The tension in the reader or the audience grows steadily as the character grapples with the choice. In the Matrix Neo is offered the choice between the blue pill and the red pill without clear assurance for what will happen with either choice.


Frodo chooses to accept the ring and the challenges that come with it, but as he comes to realize how difficult that path is in The Fellowship of the Ring he says, “I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.” The ever-wise Gandalf responds, “So do all who live to see such times but that is not for them to decide. All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given you.”


I think one thing is certain. The choices I make today will prepare me for the choices ahead. The truth that I bury in my heart will form the foundation of what I believe. That foundation will help me face the choice between what is right and what is easy.






Tactics For The Offense



As I have been writing about offense versus defense in the context of a football analogy this week and including characteristics of good offensive players, I have tried to look at how this applies to us as believers charged with the Great Commission and called to be the offense for Christ in the field of the world. Let me today reflect just one more time in this context.


I have certainly never played football, but as I watch the game and consider the job of the offensive line I see that it is not as direct or straightforward as it might look neatly typed in black font on white paper. Yes, all the characteristics I mentioned are needed and one of the obvious reasons is that the defense is committed to prevent the offensive line from reaching their goal. Their main job is to stop the surge of the offensive linemen on a rushing play and to get to the passer on a pass play.


Putting it plainly: the defense will do anything and everything to stop you and these players are strong and tough and have never heard of simply tapping the offensive lineman to persuade him to turn back from his objective.


Those of us on Christ’s team face another ‘team’ that is no less committed to stop us. Christ’s enemy (and ours) is as determined as ever to deter us and seek to rob God of His glory that we can present Him as a result of Christ’s death and resurrection.


Paul writes clearly about the armor we are supposed to wear in his familiar passage in Ephesians 6:10-18 (ESV):


10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,”



The image Paul creates is crystal clear. I have often heard said there is no armor mentioned to cover the back because we are to always be moving forward and have others behind us that provide such cover. This is another example suggesting we are on the offense versus defense as the Lord’s team.


To be this kind of offensive player requires courage. Some might say it requires valor, pluck, grit, guts, moxie, backbone, boldness, or fearlessness. As I look at the list and assess myself in comparison to the list, I can find myself lacking. It is a poignant reminder that courage or any of its synonyms is not something you have because you have no fear, but rather it is something that you have because you move forward in spite of it and in that moment you gain courage.


I love the movie, Gettysburg, for many reasons and many scenes depicted in it, but one scene never fails to inspire me and leave me in awe. It is the depiction of the Battle for Little Round Top. If you know the movie or the story, I don’t need to tell you why I feel that way. For those of you who may not, let me share just a bit about what happens when a ‘team’ is asked to defend a position without adequate men, firearms, or ammunition. (Add to that the team’s weariness from many days of walking great distances and fighting other battles.)


The 20th Maine Regiment of the Union Army under the leadership of Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain is given the assignment that will protect the high ground of the battlefield at Gettysburg from being taken by the Confederate forces under General Robert E. Lee. The orders are specific and clear: “This is the left of the Union line. You are to hold this ground at all costs.”


Time and again the Confederate forces charge up to try to gain the ground and push the Union troops from their position. They have done their best, but with a depleted line and ammunition running out, Chamberlain decides on a new tactic. He orders the troops under his command to fix bayonets and charge down the hill into the two Confederate regiments. He ordered they use a right-wheel maneuver as they came down the hill. It was a risky decision with the possibility of loss of life great because they were outmanned and out gunned compared to the men charging toward them. He has ordered them to take the offense.


The last thing the Confederate troops are expecting is just such a stance of offensive tactics and the plan succeeds and goes into the annals of history as a pivotal point in the historic three day Battle of Gettysburg on July 2, 1863.


They epitomized the characteristics needed to mount a good offense: intelligence, toughness, work ethic, good character, and athletic ability. I listed those in the previous post, but the one that was key that is also needed for anyone who plays offense is courage/valor.


There are many descriptions and examples of valor or courage, but I want to leave you with some words of Mark Batterson in Chase the Lion on the subject.


“Valor is a gift. Those having it never know for sure whether they have it until the test comes. And those having it in one test never know for sure if they have it when the next test comes.

 Valor is less an action and more a reaction.

 Valor is running toward trouble when everyone else is running away. Valor is going above and beyond the call of duty. Valor is putting yourself in the line of fire for someone else.”




Characteristics of Good Offensive Players




Earlier this week I posed a question: Are you playing offense or defense? I used the game of football to illustrate the point and suggested that as believers we often tend to think we are to be playing defense until the Lord returns. We certainly may be called to defend a position, but we are largely called to play offense. I see that in Matthew 16:18:


In Matthew 16:18 Jesus says, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”


I also see it clearly in the well-known Great Commission in Matthew 28: 18-20:


“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”


 I hear in these words of scripture a game plan that is in every way an offensive one. The goal and the purpose are clearly laid out for us. The disciples who were listening were not told, “Occupy until I return”. They are asked to go out and reach all the corners of the earth and share the Good News with all people everywhere. But this commission was not simply passed on to the disciples who were in the physical presence of Jesus before His ascension after he had risen. It is one passed down to us.


He is calling us to be light in the darkness and to speak truth and the hope of the very BEST news we could ever hear or know.


If we are to be His offensive line, perhaps we should revisit the football analogy to keep it real as we look at the characteristics needed to play offense. Yes, we can site the spiritual equipment needed, but can the analogy flesh out the image for us a bit more?


As I researched this question, I learned there are five characteristics needed to be successful if you are called to play offense:

  1. Intelligence
  2. Toughness
  3. Work ethic
  4. Good character
  5. Athletic ability


What do these mean in the football analogy and do they fit for us as believers?


Intelligence as an offensive lineman in football means they are not only smart about football, but they are able to perform well in the classroom as well. They have a balance of both classroom knowledge and football intelligence. In other words they have knowledge of more than football and they can apply that knowledge on the field they are called to play in because they know how to think through a situation. In the game on the field, things are always changing moment by moment in the game. They also play a variety of different teams who play the game a bit differently from team to team.


On the believers team I think this applies. To be effective we need to learn skills in the classroom to appropriately handle scripture and scriptural truths when we are out ‘on the field’. We also need to know something about life and lived experiences to apply what we have known and learned in the area and with the people the Lord brings into our lives or that we are called to go to. How you present the Good News to a big city businessman or woman will likely be different than how you would present it to a mom in Middle America or a teen in the inner city.


Toughness as an offensive lineman includes both physical and mental toughness that are developed through drills, weight room programs, mat work, etc. so they can handle the rigors of the game. Often they are hit hard and must learn to play through and keep going in the midst of pain. In short, lots of practice to the point of exhaustion is needed to develop toughness.


On the believers team I think this applies as well. We need to develop strong beliefs and understanding of scripture and the Christian life that can stand the test of rejection, criticism, and perhaps ridicule. The toughness needs to be strong enough so that we do not give up when challenges inevitably come. Paul gives us lots of examples. He was beaten, stoned, thrown into prison, ship wrecked and so on. Nothing deterred him from his call and assigned to share the Good News everywhere with everyone.


Hard work is the basic foundation of any successful offensive lineman in football so a good work ethic is essential. A good work ethic includes showing up even earlier than asked and never taking for granted the need for practice even if you won the game last time. It means keeping your equipment and body clean and in good shape. It means staying late if necessary to get it right.


The work ethic of the team of believers means we aren’t sloppy and our discipline about preparedness and making and keeping commitments are central to modeling Christ.These things in combination help to mold and shape a good character and allow the Holy Spirit to have full access to the gifting and calling that has been placed in us as Christ’s team to go out under the command of the Great Commission taking His light into the darkness, speaking the truth in love.


No, most of us are not donning pads and a helmet to take the gridiron this week, but we are commissioned to take the field of the world. We’re playing offense for Christ as we do.


Are we ready?








Are You Playing Offense or Defense?



For many weeks our TV sets have had a full schedule of football games. If you are a football fan, this is the best time of the year as teams compete to ultimately win the title of the championship of their division or franchise. You may not be a fan, but you likely know more than one or two people who are. Sales of clothing and gear representing each team can be found almost everywhere and I know at least two of my grandchildren found shirts of their favorite teams under the Christmas tree.


Football historians generally regard the birth date of football in the United States as November 6, 1869, when teams from Rutgers and Princeton Universities met for the first intercollegiate football game. In those early games, there were 20 players to a team and football still more closely resembled rugby than modern football.


By 1873, representatives from Columbia, Rutgers, Princeton, and Yale Universities met in New York City to formulate the first intercollegiate football rules for the increasingly popular game. These four teams established the Intercollegiate Football Association (IFA) and set 15 as the number of players allowed on each team.


Walter Camp, the coach at Yale and a dissenter from the IFA over his desire for an eleven man team, helped begin the final step in the evolution from rugby-style play to the modern game of American football. The IFA’s rules committee, led by Camp, soon cut the number of players from fifteen to eleven, and also instituted the size of the playing field, at one hundred yards with two ten yard end zones.


Players on football teams are chosen for their skill and gifting to play either offensive or defensive positions. Football players tend to be specialized in their roles on the team, especially offensive football players. Some players have managed to play multiple positions on offense and defense even at the professional level, but this rarely happens.


If you are a football fan, you already know something about the roles of the offense versus the defense. The offense is tasked with moving the football down the field (led by the quarterback) to the opposing team’s end zone to score. These players tend to be big and strong to protect the quarterback in his quest and to stand against the defense whose primary task is to prevent the other team from achieving their movement of the ball down the field to score.


As believers (a team) in Christ we are caught up in a great goal of building the church on this earth and preparing for the Second Advent, Christ’s return. Most of us are aware of the battle we find ourselves in with the forces of darkness that seek to stop us from moving forward with that goal. We likely have heard sermons on spiritual warfare or even read books about it. Both are helpful reminders to us of the unseen world around us that powerfully affects what we do see, but sometimes we can get caught up in the idea that we are consistently playing defense in this battle.


In Matthew 16:18 Jesus says, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Have we considered what this one verse makes clear?


From the beginning of time walls were built around cities to protect them from their enemies. We see that routinely in our reading of the Bible. Nehemiah is a great place to look at the building (rebuilding) of the walls around the city of Jerusalem after it had been decimated. If you read the text carefully, you see the importance of the hanging of the gates and the purpose of those gates. Gates were a part of the defense of the city and key to protection.


As believers we are not called to hide behind the enclosures and gates of our churches and play defense. We are called to go out using the armor Paul writes about in Ephesians 6 and take the world for Christ.


Mark Batterson puts it this way in Chase the Lion, “In other words, we’re called to play offense. Faithfulness isn’t holding down the fort until Jesus returns. Faithfulness is taking back enemy territory by shining light in dark places.”


 J.R.R. Tolkien gives us many glimpses of the difference between playing offense and defense against tremendous odds. One of my favorites is when King Aragorn leads a trembling army to the black gate to charge against the very enemy they fear in The Return of the King. His lines to his troops are epic:


“I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down, but it is not this day! This day we fight!! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you stand, Men of the West!!!”


We are called to transform the world!


Even as the word of King Aragorn echoes down through time, the Lord is calling on us to be men and women of valor who do not shrink back from moving out into whatever field He has called us to.


As we steadily move forward into 2017, will we play offense or defense?